Friday, February 28, 2014

Peggy Noonan, Woman of Deep Insight into the Human Condition

Peggy Noonan, working up the brain power to distinguish
between tolerance and intolerance. Uh oh, intolerance won.

The world's moving along, for better or for worse, but for Peggy Noonan it's the liberals and the regulations and all. Who cares that it makes sense to regulate how buildings are built and is an established fait accompli since who can remember? Who cares if a building is unsafe? Damn regulations!
Rules, regulations, many of them stupid, from all the agencies--local, state, federal--on the building of a house, or the starting of a business. You can only employ so many before the new insurance rules kick in so don't employ too many, don't take a chance! Which means: Don't grow. It takes the utmost commitment to start a school or improve an existing one because you'll come up against the unions, which own the politicians.
Of course, it's the unions! But, citizens, it gets worse:
 On twitter Thursday the freedom-fighter who tweets as @FriedrichHayek asked: "Can the government compel a Jewish baker to deliver a wedding cake on a Saturday? If not why not." Why not indeed. Because the truly tolerant give each other a little space?
I don't know, but if he's an observant Jew, he'd be closed on the Sabbath, right? Is that too hard a concept to squeeze out of yer frontal lobes, Peggy? And who are the truly tolerant in this little scenario of yours, Peggers? Everyone who's not gay? Everyone who's not in a union?

Could be me, but Noonan looks like she gets paid for writing paeans to intolerance masquerading as cries for tolerance. Nice work if you can get it.

Thanks, Media Matters.

This Week in Crazy Laws

Boise State University: backpacking heat?

In the solution-in-search-of-a-problem department, the Republican-controlled Idaho Legislature is poised to allow concealed guns on campus at colleges throughout the state. Protests have been mounted, and one college professor wrote an op-ed in the New York Times seeking clarification as to when he should shoot students. This is one crazy proposed law, one would think, so of course it's already passed the Idaho Senate, 25-10.

Texas passed laws last year allowing concealed carry of guns on campus. In fact, they passed several laws, but Governor Rick Perry isn't crazy; he didn't sign all the laws. He vetoed the one that provides for teachers to be trained to carry and use guns in cases of emergencies. Requiring training, that's crazy! Perry did sign the bill that allows campus gun marshals similar to air marshals.

Also, the Texas law only allows the guns to be stored in your car. You can't concealed-carry the gun into class. This, naturally, makes complete sense.

Polls found students overwhelmingly against the new Texas law. Gee, that's weird.

Thank heavens it's just Texas. Wait. Twenty-three states permit guns on campuses. Go Idaho! Twenty-four!

Upon further review, the laws are all over the map, so to speak, meaning they vary quite a bit from state to state. Read this piece to get whatever amounts to a clear view about laws concerning guns on campus.

Texas Tech: Handguns are allowed on the premises of Texas Tech in parking
lots, in front of buildings, in grassy areas, and in streets. However, guns are not
allowed in Texas Tech's buildings or classrooms. The Texas Tech Chapter of
Concealed Carry on Campus is all in for concealed carry everywhere on campus.
(Source, Texas Tech College of Media and Communication)

Discrimination Is the Key to Understanding White (Male) American Panic

You know, folks, we used to be free to discriminate, but now seems like everyday some new thing comes along and they tell us, "You can't discriminate about that anymore." Just doesn't seem right somehow. We're losing our freedom is what it is. We used to be in charge. We used to be able to say, "Sorry, boy, you can't do that. Cuz I say so, that's why." Now we got no freedom to control our world. Just not right.

Same song, different tune. Read this.

Should We Praise Jan Brewer in Arizona?

Not really. The loony Republican legislature there did something VERY TYPICAL of Republican legislatures: They passed a horrible law based on frenzied white Christian fear. Brewer just said to herself, "Shit, we sometimes do unbelievably stupid political things in our rush to see who can be the biggest asshole. The courts were going to shut it down anyway, and we'd look idiotic and petulant again."

Bravo. Sort of. But ugly will pop up elsewhere. White Christian America is having one large panic attack. GAY! BLACK! FREE CONTRACEPTION! DADDY'S NOT IN CHARGE! IT'S MY MONEY! ISN'T THERE SOME KIND OF FREEDOM THING WE CAN INVOKE? GUNS! RELIGION!

Real attractive, America.

Barack Obama was famously caught on tape at a fundraiser in 2008 talking about people in the "heartland." He said, "So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren't like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or, you know, anti-trade sentiment [as] a way to explain their frustrations."

Boy, was he right. We've been seeing it over and over since he became president. If and when Hillary becomes president, look the fuck out.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What!? Americans Support the Healthcare Law?

Now I've seen everything. Nearly every day I spend some time tracking down the nonsense that the Koch brothers are delivering on behalf of their Republican clients, that "everyone KNOWS that Obamacare is a disaster" and horrible for everyone. Except that, increasingly, it turns out that it isn't. Who knew?

Apparently the American people. So reports Greg Sargent over at the WaPo Plum Line blog:
Obamacare is a disaster for Democrats, and a certain winner for Republicans. That’s what we keep hearing, anyway.
So why does it look as if the percentage of Americans who favor repeal may have actually shrunk since its rollout problems began?
That’s what the February tracking poll for the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests. To be sure, the new poll finds that opinion of the law is more negative than positive: 47 percent of Americans view the law unfavorably, while 35 percent view it favorably (though opinions have improved a bit since October).
But unfavorable views have not translated into support for the GOP position of repeal; indeed the repeal position may have lost ground since the October rollout problems, while a clear majority favors keeping and improving the law.
Greg throws in a pretty impressive graphic:

...showing that 58% of Americans want to keep the bill as it is or improve it.

I wonder how long the Republicans are going to continue to run against Obamacare. Soon, it'll be "We Republicans are going to find ways to improve Obamacare, we never wanted to repeal it, for heaven's sake!"


Texas Judge Declares Texas Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Unconstituional

As with many older Americans out there, the progress in furthering GLBT civil rights has been breathtaking to witness. We had to abandon age-old prejudices perhaps faster than many of us were ready for.

I for one would have been caught off-guard and not knowing what side of the fence I should land on except for one central experience. Some years back before I retired from teaching high school, I witnessed the vulnerability of teenage gays and the obvious harm done to them through bullying. I looked these young students in the eye, and the fear and confusion was palpable.

At that precise moment, I had to decide what these young men needed, deserved. The answer was clear: unequivocal support and unreserved honest acceptance. I let them know that I had their back and hoped that they could trust me. If they eyed me with suspicion, I couldn't blame them. When I felt they indeed trusted me, I felt like a better man.

The better men and women of our American society -- the heterosexual ones -- likely took a path similar to mine. And so it is with each state that falls in line with our better natures. Texas has joined in the procession today with U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia's ruling:
“Today’s court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent,” Garcia wrote in the order. “Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our U.S. Constitution.”
As has become usual, the judge stayed his own judgment pending appeal. But wow, just wow. Watching a civil right being born and growing at breakneck speed is invigorating. That I had to be dragged to the party -- but landed in the right place -- makes is all the more impressive to me. Thank God for my good fortune as a teacher to have learned from my students.

That one line: Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose..." Substitute "human" for "governmental" and you've got it. What legitimate human purpose indeed.

Obama was late, too, but he made it.

The Most Frightening Article I Have Read in Years

Dahlia Lithwick in Slate:
I might go further. I might say that whether or not specific jurisdictions define self-defense to include a duty to retreat, and whether or not specific juries are charged to apply it, America is quickly becoming one big “stand your ground” state, as a matter of culture if not the letter of the law.
And this is not just in Florida. We are quickly becoming a nation that would rather shoot than stand down, or at least one that thinks everyone has the right to. We are a nation of jurors who carefully consider the emotional state of a killer who had no obligation to even investigate the emotional state of the person he believed was attempting to kill him. We are a nation whose courts and legislatures have enshrined the American values of individualism, property rights, and mistrust of the state while eroding our duty to retreat.
After Trayvon Martin was killed, for a long time it was fashionable to say, “I am Trayvon Martin,” in solidarity with him and his family. But a far more worrisome possibility has begun to creep into our culture. With each successful “stand your ground” claim, explicit or implicit, we are all in peril of becoming more frightened, more violent, and more apt to shoot first and justify it later. The only thing more terrifying than the prospect of becoming a nation of Trayvon Martins is the possibility that we are unconsciously morphing into a nation of George Zimmermans.
Maybe some of you are happy to read something like this, but not me. I've trusted Dahlia Lithwick's legal instincts for a long time now. If she thinks this is happening -- as I've recently feared, as well -- then this trend doesn't bode well for American life moving forward.

The Obama Stimulus Was Good, Not Great

As we came up on its fifth anniversary, Paul Krugman last week wrote an analysis of the outcome of the ARRA, Barack Obama's stimulus act. He posits that the stimulus worked but was too small to be as effective as we needed it to be. Krugman also points out that it was a political failure, partly caused by a too-rosy prediction of its effects. The administration oversold it. The public was suspicious and only occasionally supported it.

Krugman has it right, in my view, but opponents would counter that of course Krugman would support it: He's a Keynesian. Okay, then, what's the best contrary view to Krugman?

That's difficult to sort out. People take sides. We're not surprised that the NYTimes might say it worked and the WSJ would say that it didn't. Dean Baker thought it was too small. Stanford's John Taylor disagreed. Battle lines are thus drawn, and they're not helpful. Middle-of-the-roader Mark Zandi was probably closer to the mark.

Some analyses are dead giveaways. An example is the Chicago Tribune op-ed by Steve Chapman that declared the Obama stimulus a failure:
The idea behind channeling money to state governments is that it would reduce the paring of government payrolls, thus preserving the spending power of public employees. But the plan went awry, according to a paper by Dartmouth College economists James Feyrer and Bruce Sacerdote published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
"Transfers to the states to support education and law enforcement appear to have little effect," they concluded. Most likely, they said, states used the money to avoid raising taxes or borrowing money.
So, Feyrer and Sacerdote declared the stimulus a failure. Steve Chapman said so, using just the one quote from the Dartmouth study. But wait a minute. Dylan Matthews in the Washington Post cites the Feyrer-Sacerdote study on several points, including the one Chapman cites. However, Feyrer and Sacerdote liked parts of the stimulus:
Who did it: James Feyrer and Bruce Sacerdote, Dartmouth College.
What it says: The stimulus had a positive, statistically significant effect on employment. The effects varied by type of spending. Aid to states for education and law enforcement didn’t have a significant effect, but aid to low-income people and infrastructure spending showed very positive impacts. The multiplier was between 1.96 to 2.31 for low-income spending, 1.85 for infrastructure spending, and between 0.47 and 1.06 for the stimulus overall.
So, the overall view of Feyrer and Sacerdote was positive, especially in the effect on employment. Matthews notes that their study does indicate the stimulus did little with its aid to the states. Verdict? Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune can't be trusted in his analysis.

Who can we trust? I trust Krugman because he's been proven correct over time. He says something and years later he turns out to be right. If he makes a mistake, he admits it. Sure, he's probably guilty of smoothing some things over, but it doesn't color his work. So I trust him.

I read the Matthews analysis and found it broad enough -- with no Chapman cherry-picking -- to be convincing. The stimulus worked but not fabulously. It probably would have worked better if there were more direct employment stimulus, more public works spending on infrastructure.

Like the PPACA -- Obamacare -- too much effort was made to bring Republican votes into the mix, and so it was with the ARRA. To mollify the opposition, there was too much tax relief, and the state aid was too unfocused. The irony is that no Republicans voted for it in the House, and three did so in the Senate, but that's been par for the course during the entire Obama administration.

The real tragedy is, just as Krugman says, that fiscal stimulus has earned a bad name, despite the fact that austerity in Europe proved so disastrous. This has been a political failure for stimulus spending, not a evidential one. Here's some evidence:

That's the White House look. What does the Fed say?

Why the downturn in mid-2010 in the Fed numbers? the WH has private sector numbers, and the Fed has total numbers. Factor in reduced federal spending, you lose public sector jobs. Factor out public sector jobs, and the growth is continuous. Moral of the story? Don't cut public sector jobs in an economic downturn. We will learn? I doubt it. Europe didn't.

European growth has been flat compared to the U.S.

European austerity, driven by Germany, led to a double-dip recession that the U.S. didn't experience.

Again, stimulus works, austerity doesn't. Politically, these facts fell on deaf ears, or so Krugman believes. Wikipedia summarizes it a little differently. (Spoiler alert: Many thought that the stimulus worked.) American public opinion? It's been all over the map, but mostly negative by a few points. It's not surprising.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Koch Brothers Lie, The Koch Brothers Lie! (The Gazillionth Edition)

Every time they lie, we'll talk about it. Here's another bullshit pitch:

The truth? The ad condemns Obamacare. But the scared senior is worried about Medicare. Also, the man is worried about the Medicare cuts, which are not benefit cuts, they're payout cuts to Medicare Advantage providers. The senior is having zero cuts to services, period. We don't know if he's even in a Medicare Advantage program. Only 28% of seniors use an Advantage program, which, coincidentally was a favorite of Republicans, who pushed them as an HMO alternative to traditional Medicare back in the 90s! Not surprising.

Oh, and Glenn Kessler of WaPo Fact Checker says two Pinocchios.

End of story. For now.

Why Conservatives Talk about Opportunity Rather Than Equality

Talking about opportunity -- similar in concept to "social mobility" -- is easy. You can say opportunity is out there. You just have to work hard to improve your prospects.

On the other hand, equality is hard: To make things more equal, money has to shift hands. And that ain't easy. Someone has to give it up so others may have it.

Conservatives talk opportunity, liberals talk equality. This is not surprising. It's the great tension of our era.

James Surowiecki in the New Yorker makes it plain why this is the case:
That sounds like good news [that social mobility isn't shrinking], but there’s a catch: there wasn’t that much mobility to begin with. According to Chetty, “Social mobility is low and has been for at least thirty or forty years.” This is most obvious when you look at the prospects of the poor. Seventy per cent of people born into the bottom quintile of income distribution never make it into the middle class, and fewer than ten per cent get into the top quintile. Forty per cent are still poor as adults. What the political scientist Michael Harrington wrote back in 1962 is still true: most people who are poor are poor because “they made the mistake of being born to the wrong parents.” The middle class isn’t all that mobile, either: only twenty per cent of people born into the middle quintile ever make it into the top one. And although we think of U.S. society as archetypally open, mobility here is lower than in most European countries.
This wasn’t always the case. As the economist Joseph P. Ferrie has shown, in the late nineteenth century U.S. society was far more mobile than Great Britain’s—a child in the U.S. was much more likely to move into a higher-class profession than that of his father—and much more mobile than it became later. It was possible for Andrew Carnegie to start as a bobbin boy in a cotton factory at a dollar-twenty a week and end up one of the world’s richest men. This legacy left a deep imprint on American culture. The sociologist Werner Sombart noted in 1906 that the average American worker felt he had a good chance of rising out of his class. That feeling has persisted: Americans are less concerned than Europeans about inequality and more confident that society is meritocratic. The problem is that, over time, the American dream has become increasingly untethered from American reality.
 We hit a wall in the early 1980s. This graph tells the story:

The decline of unions correlates with declining wages:

Surowiecki finishes:
More important, in any capitalist society most people are bound to be part of the middle and working classes; public policy should focus on raising their standard of living, instead of raising their chances of getting rich. What made the U.S. economy so remarkable for most of the twentieth century was the fact that, even if working people never moved into a different class, over time they saw their standard of living rise sharply. Between the late nineteen-forties and the early nineteen-seventies, median household income in the U.S. doubled. That’s what has really changed in the past forty years. The economy is growing more slowly than it did in the postwar era, and average workers’ share of the pie has been shrinking. It’s no surprise that people in Washington prefer to talk about mobility rather than about this basic reality. Raising living standards for ordinary workers is hard: you need to either get wages growing or talk about things that scare politicians, like “redistribution” and “taxes.” But making it easier for some Americans to move up the economic ladder is no great triumph if most can barely hold on.
When conservatives talk about "opportunity" and liberals talk about "equality," one thing is key: If opportunity for the working stiffs to improve their living standards has all but disappeared, then we're left to raise their living standards some other way. If we can't equalize opportunity, we can at least equalize standards of living, like most evolved nations in the world do, at least to some extent greater than the U.S.

Raise the minimum wage. Better still, insist on a living wage for all Americans. We can afford it, and history dictates that it may be our only path to economic health for all. And, if those with the lowest wages tend to spend everything we hand them, this shift of wealth from upper classes to lower classes will be a fabulous stimulus for the whole economy. Won't the "job creators" benefit, too?

WaPo Idiot of the Week: It's Not Robert Samuelson After All!

Richard Cohen, who might have been relevant some day in the distant past, outdoes his current irrelevance.

Read it for yourself. However, you might want to have some Pepto nearby. Here's a quick summary, though, if you want to avoid following the dreaded link:
Susan Rice didn't actually lie on Meet the Press about Benghazi, as shown in an in-depth report on the incident, but I'll pretend that she did so I can launch an attack on her most recent appearance. I'm going to attack her because she said we shouldn't think about invading Syria as others have. I'm going to condemn her for not naming names -- because she can't! -- and I'm going to forget that there isn't a crisis that John McCain and Lindsey Graham can't jump up and down and say that we should "keep all options on the table because Obama is weak and naive!" Then I'm going to condemn Barack Obama for making America look weak because we haven't threatened to use force every time some country starts to fall apart because maybe the borders were wrongly drawn across ethnic lines by wars or colonial powers. That kind of concept is too complicated for me, so I'll just blame Obama for not being willing to carry on the age-old tradition of America the World's Beat Cop, something that George W. Bush is being pilloried right and left for, leaving him the most unpopular president in recent memory. Instead, I'll blame it on the black chick because war should never be off the table! Then I'm going to cite nationalism and WWI and then say, well, it's not going to happen this time but what if?!!
Richard Cohen should be traded to the Washington Times for seven bucks and half a columnist to be named later. Or retire already.

"OK, I'll attack Obama about Syria, and you say Falluja's Obama's fault and
we should maybe invade, and Cohen will blame Susan Rice in the Post. Got it?"

Robert J. Samuelson: When the Very Serious People Propagandize

Okay, maybe economics columnist Robert J. Samuelson -- and I use the term economics loosely, since he does -- knows what he's doing and saying, but you wouldn't know by reading him. I read him to stay abreast of what the Washington Post holds to be relevant these days.

When Samuelson writes, there's always a tell, a line that when read, one goes "Ah ha, that's his core message." In his latest opus, a bare-naked screed against Barack Obama about, well, it's hard to say, but Samuelson says jobs or something. But here's the line that tells you what he really thinks:
An administration serious about job creation has to sacrifice other priorities to achieve it. This, President Obama hasn’t done.
There it is. Like the WaPo editorial board that recently attacked Obama for deciding not to offer cuts to Social Security in his 2015 budget proposal, Samuelson is pissed because the only way Obama can prove he's Serious about jobs is by cutting something somewhere. Where, Samuelson doesn't say. But you can bet he means entitlements.

So, if Barack Obama is Serious about job creation, he has to prove his bonafides by making cuts to social programs somewhere, anywhere. Where? Who cares? As long as it hurts the peons.

One thing that is obvious about this column: Samuelson cherry-picks his data to accuse the president of cherry-picking his data. C'mon, Bob, if you want to be taken Seriously, don't be so obvious.

Also, Samuelson doesn't want to raise the minimum wage. He doesn't say that, but, well read the piece for yourselves. I end up with one clear message from him: I'm a Serious Person, so there's got to be pain somewhere! You can't be Serious, Obama. Where's your pain?!?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Anatomy of a Bubble

Before its time? Now they could deliver chihuahuas by drone.

Paul Krugman blogs about bubbles today, apropos of FED navel gazing. Krugman's right: Bubbles are all about herd behavior. What's more, herd behavior pressures even the faint at heart to "buy" the bubble, both actually and academically.

In my own life, I was a classic case. I bought the tech bubble of the late 90s, literally. As a tech columnist back then, I was enamored of both the new online brokers -- I started investing with eBroker (now TD Ameritrade) in 1996 -- and tech mutual funds and stocks. I bought them, wrote about them, bought some more. When the first tech bubble popped, I bought more on the dip, only to watch all that go to hell in another huge fall. Ouch.

I was lucky in that I bought early enough that I wasn't wiped out -- I still came out up if not on top.

Now, with the housing bubble I was once stung, twice shy. I didn't buy the bubble, and I was warning friends and family that there was a bubble, and much to my chagrin, they ignored me and bought anyway. Some did okay, some got wiped out.

So what did I do? In classic herd fashion, I gave in when the market refused to crash. I did, wisely, go out of my steaming-hot California market up to Portland, Oregon, where the prices weren't insane. I bought there because I HAD TO and I didn't want to get burned.

But of course I did get burned. But only a little.

Funny thing is that California bounced back sooner, and Oregon's market stayed soft longer than many places in the country. However, I had put a serious down on my Portland place and was never underwater and, since 2005, I've been without a tenant for a solitary month. Now prices are back to what I paid then. I'm okay, partly through luck, partly because my bubble paranoia caused me to be only half-crazy when I chose to get into the market.

Coincidentally, I bought in Sonoma in the dip, paying 40% or more below the highs. As with all buying-at-the-dip, I actually bought 30% above the real dip. Why? A dip is either a trough or a ledge; you only find out which later. As in Portland, my valuations here are back above what I paid.

Lucky or smart? I was a bit of both. The lucky part was I didn't lose a job or get sick or anything that would have scrambled my strategy or smacked me down at an inopportune time. The smart part was that I kept reading Case-Schiller and most especially the Anderson Forecast out of UCLA that called the real estate bubble a long time before others. I also read Calculated Risk religiously. They also called the bust early.

What's the next bubble? I think it's social media. Of course, in the tech bubble years I bought infrastructure, you know, hardware, networking, software, etc. I thought Amazon, Yahoo!, Google, and eBay were crazy investments, and I hated Apple with a passion -- I despised Apple's elitism -- and never thought it could fight its way out of the hole it was in. So my call on social media -- I have no stock in any of them -- might be dumb. I've been dumb before!

My only serious anti-bubble play lately has been to double-short gold. I'm still in the money on the play, but it's slipped lately. Why, I don't know. I think gold is for gold bugs, and gold bugs are fueled by paranoia. I'll stick to my guns, but who knows who's right? If gold slips hard again, maybe the herd will carve out my profits for me. C'mon, gold, let's unbubble!

Note. Many feel that we're in a stock bubble right now. I'm a little concerned about it myself. What keeps me calm, though, are the 10% pullbacks we experience before chasing new highs. I interpret that to mean this secular bull market has legs. Also, corporations are sitting on cash because of slack demand, and potential and actual GDP remain far apart. When we finally emerge from this jobless recovery, corporations will take that cash and invest in new equipment and inventories. That will lead to jobs, better tax revenues, more infrastructure spending, government rehiring, and, boom, the bull market rolls on.

Or not. I've always been a betting man, albeit a cautious one. Still, I'm in and staying long. Except for gold...

If Glenn Beck's long, I'm so short...

A Final Note. During the tech bubble I read about the Tulip Mania in 17th-century Holland. With no small amount of irony, I made the connection between tulip bubble and tech bubble and I STILL DIDN'T EXIT THE MARKET. Dumb and dumber, oh well. Bernanke and Geithner missed the housing bubble.

Preschool Is at a Crossroads. Let's Do It Right!

Is it play or is it learning? (It's both.)

This NYTimes op-ed about preschool points to the hazards of not getting early childhood education right. Two things can get confused and really muck up an important change in education policy.
By age 17, nearly one in five American boys and one in 10 girls has been told that they have A.D.H.D. That comes to 6.4 million children and adolescents — a 40 percent increase from a decade ago and more than double the rate 25 years ago. Nearly 70 percent of these kids are prescribed stimulant medications.
Families and physicians must take special care in medicating very young children. Today’s push for performance sets us on a troubling trajectory. A surge in diagnoses would mean more prescriptions despite guidance from professional organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommend that behavioral therapy rather than medication be used as first-line treatment for children under 6.
Too many kids are identified and treated after an initial pediatric visit of 20 minutes or even less. Accurate diagnosis requires reports of impairment from home and school, and a thorough history of the child and family must be taken, to rule out abuse or unrelated disorders.

Yes, this would be more time consuming and costly in the short term. But just like investing in preschool, spending more today on careful diagnosis and treatment of A.D.H.D. will lead to lifetimes of savings. As the early childhood education movement builds, let’s make sure we proceed with caution. We should fundamentally rethink how we diagnose and treat A.D.H.D., especially for our youngest citizens.
Right. The point is that, one, preschoolers are liable to be labeled A.D.H.D. most especially if the drive for higher performance leads to preschool curriculum guaranteed to make the mildest tot squirm in his or her seat.

The pound of prevention is, quite simply, a play-centered approach to preschool, even kindergarten curriculum. Of course, don't hold the adventurous back; but by all means let the young'uns play their way to smart. There's plenty of proof that this approach is highly successful.

Op-ed commenter J L says:
The headline for this opinion piece drew me in as I expected to read a compelling and clearly stated argument for developmentally appropriate programming for early childhood education and especially for what may soon be universal pre-K for 4 year olds. Young children learn by doing, they are naturally curious and provided with a nurturing, guided, play oriented environment will grow into curious active learners willing and able to sit still for periods of "instruction" when they are developmentally ready, closer to age 7 than 3 or 4 or 5. Educators who understand child development will design learning environments that allow children to learn in a variety of ways, recognizing the need for lots of physical activity. The point is, expecting young children to sit still for instruction in pre-K or even in Kindergarten (all day kindergarten is an invention of the need for extended day care….kindergarten was designed to be pre-k, a place to introduce children to the concept of "school", limited to a couple of hours a day, with lots of play, some story time (listening to a teacher) and a snack, getting kids ready to learn. Being ready to learn derives from kids feeling safe, cared for, nurtured in mind and body…..Please insist on developmentally appropriate practices in pre-K programming and carry through into early elementary….and there will be far less diagnosis of ADHD (it may be real, but it is conveniently over diagnosed for the benefit of teachers and parents)
Absolutely on point.

Note. My wife is a private preschool director. Without her, I would likely know nothing about this topic. But I do, so here's my two cents.

A lot going on: colors, shapes, objects, construction, engineering, cooperation.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

If You Got to Write the 2nd Amendment

This article in The Week made me think about what I'd propose for a modern writing of the 2nd Amendment. I'll give it a go:
In order to insure the right of 32,000 people to die from guns each year, the right to have whatever gun or gun-related merchandise a citizen wants shall not be limited or regulated in any way. In fact, laws should be encouraged that expand the right to self-defense.
That's wordy. Here's another try:
All good guys and bad guys should have guns so they cancel each other out.
There, done! Our forefathers would be proud.

How's Your Lobbyist Doing This Year?

Senate-Majority-Leader-turned-lobbyist Tom Daschle.
Watching out for our interests? Not anymore.

I had to let my lobbyist go because I realized he wasn't effective anymore. He was Lyndon B. Johnson, who lost his effectiveness some years back when he retired and later died. Since then, my trust in Congress has waned.

With good reason: Current estimates put the number of lobbyists in Washington at 100,000. Considering there are 535 members of Congress, we have to assume it's not even vaguely a fair fight.

To get a picture of today's lobbying culture, read this slightly horribly depressing report from The Nation.

What Fiscal Conservatism Looks Like

David Atkins at Hullabalo flags the horrifying figures from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars:
The U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion, taking into account the medical care of wounded veterans and expensive repairs to a force depleted by more than a decade of fighting, according to a new study by a Harvard researcher.
Remember these numbers when Republicans call for more tax cuts. Remember these numbers when Republicans say the 2009 stimulus failed. Remember these numbers when Paul Ryan talks about cutting entitlements. And most definitely remember these numbers when Republicans like Lindsey Graham and John McCain beat the war drum over and over.

We will pay for George W. Bush's follies for decades. He cut taxes and started two unfunded wars. Fiscal conservatism!

A Road Map for Ukraine

A look at a map of Ukraine, one demarcating the Russian-speaking regions, gives one an ominous feeling. The future comes into stark relief now that Viktor Yanukovych has been impeached and has fled the capital and his former rival Yulia Tymoshenko has quickly been released from jail.

Building off his expertise in the Middle East, Michigan professor and historian Juan Cole presents an early picture of the way forward for Ukraine, emphasizing the lessons learned during the Arab Spring:
Here are some parallels to the Arab upheavals of 2011 and suggestions for how Ukraine can avoid another failure in transitioning to democracy.
* It is good that the Ukraine military has declared neutrality. In Libya and Syria military intervention turned peaceful protests into a civil war. In contrast, in Tunisia, the military declared neutrality, which contributed to that country’s peaceful transition.
* Geographical divisions such as those in the Ukraine can be deadly to political progress. The grievances of the easterners in Libya have affected oil production. Likewise, in Yemen some of the post-revolution violence and protests have come from southerners unhappy at northern dominance. Despite their victory on Saturday, the western forces would be wise to seek a compromise with the east rather than simply attempting to dictate to the latter.
Read all of Juan Cole's analysis here.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Always Something There to Remind You: The Iraq War Perps

"I'm just as guilty, George, as you are, but they'll remember you longer."

By now there's a consensus: George W. Bush blew as a president and blew hardest when he invaded Iraq (torture a sure second). Much to America's shame, however, were the plenitude of handmaidens to W.'s cause. Yes, many were called but a few were glad to be chosen to support this most incongruous of wars. Courtesy of Media Matters, here's a list of the perps, ten years after. BTW, I ran into this by accident doing random Internet research.

Saturday Night Music

I guess I'm going for a three-fer with Sara Bareilles. Her cover of "Single Ladies" shows depth and humor. Happy Saturday.

The New York Times' Totally Opposite Take on Grand Bargains

This is not unexpected. It is, however, nice to read a sane piece about Grand Bargains and Social Security cuts, etc.

And "charade" is the right word for it. Of course, liberals like to think that Obama was playing some kind of high-stakes poker and never really intended to make a Grand Bargain with the recalcitrant Republicans. But it's not true. Obama would have cut Social Security -- a little -- to show he's Serious. I hated that, and I'm as happy as anyone, for now anyway, that it's off the table. Bullet dodged. Stupid that it ever came up or Obama ever considered it.

The Koch Brothers Lie, The Koch Brothers Lie! -- Part the Infinity

(Note. I credit Charles P. Pierce, Esquire blogger, with the "part the infinity" tag, though I've seen at least one other use it. Anyway, thanks, Charles, I can't find a better way of putting it.)

Also, if I'm noting things, it's the conservative GOP that lies about Obamacare; he Koch brothers are just the most joyous to bankroll the wide broadcast of the lies. Again, if money is speech, then it's the Kochs that have the biggest potty mouths.

To the point: First at Daily Kos and then at the LA Times, people of sound mind and good character are doing their best to see if there actually are any real Obamacare horror stories or whether they're ALL made up.

Good question. Actual Obamacare horror stories are hard to find:
But when Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post checked out her story, he found it didn't hold up. The Affordable Care Act provided her with cheaper coverage than she had before, while allowing her to keep her doctor and maintain her treatment. Kessler didn't mention it, but Boonstra plainly benefits from another provision of the ACA: the ban on exclusions for preexisting conditions. Patients living in the pre-ACA world of individual health insurance with conditions like leukemia were constantly in danger of losing their coverage and becoming uninsurable. That's not legal anymore.
Boonstra's case is just the latest of a very long line of deflatable horror stories. We've debunked a passel of them here, from Florida resident Diane Barrette, who didn't realize she'd been empowered by the ACA to move from a costly junk insurance plan to a cheaper real insurance plan; to Los Angeles real estate agent Deborah Cavallaro, whose "unaffordable" premiums turned out to be eminently affordable; to San Diego business owner Edie Sundby, whose cancer coverage was safeguarded by Obamacare after her insurer bailed out on her for financial reasons; to "Bette," the supposed victim trotted out by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers  (R-Wash.) in her response to the State of the Union message last month, and who turned out to be an ACA "victim" because she couldn't be bothered actually to investigate her options for affordable care on the Washington state enrollment website.
And there are many more, including the extremely dubious personal narratives of House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Tom Coburn.
What a lot of these stories have in common are, first of all, a subject largely unaware of his or her options under the ACA or unwilling to determine them; and, second, shockingly uninformed and incurious news reporters, including some big names in the business, who don't bother to look into the facts of the cases they're offering for public consumption. (I'm talking about you, Maria Bartiromo.)
In the last paragraph we have the real conundrum: Why do news organizations -- other that Fox, of course -- parroting Republican talking points and made-up stories even for a minute? Closer examination has so far revealed a ridiculous pattern of recurring bullshit. It's a Lucy-pulls-the-football-at-the-last-moment-on-poor-Charlie-Brown sort of pattern, only the reporters apparently don't give a shit.

Why? Probably because even their editors don't expect them to correct their mistakes. Why? Because such behavior is baked into the cake! Lamestream media!

"Say, boys, why didn't the boss print my Obamacare horror story? The nerve!

The War on the Poor and Working Families

Straight talk from William Reich:

BTW, when I watched this it had 28,817 hits. Justin Bieber's "Baby" has 993,097,350. Just so we have our priorities straight...

And just so you know it's not about Justin Bieber, here's Charlie bit my finger - again! at 664,711,907.

And I thought the Internet and the free flow of information was going to save us. Stupid me.

The Real Reason the Right Is Against Raising the Minimum Wage

Massa promise not to whip us tonight.

Conservatives in general and the tea-party conservatives specifically stand for economic policies that wear a free-market mask. They repeat ad nauseum, "Let the markets decide." At their core, they don't believe in setting a minimum wage at all. Let the markets decide!

What they really, really want is quite different. Yes, they want the markets to decide, but they're really betting that the markets will deliver to them what they lust for. And that's the creation of a new slave class.

The slave class, of course, is already successfully created. It's a mix of Hispanics, blacks, and whites who have never gotten out of the low-skill, low-wage trap and aren't likely to anytime soon, given current policy.

And that's just where conservatives want them to stay. In a nutshell,
  • The GOP will fight against raising the minimum wage because we don't have to give slaves a living wage. They're slaves, for Christ's sake.
  • The GOP will fight to prevent immigration reform, one, because they don't want their slave class voting (them out of office) and, two, they like Hispanics right where they are, a disenfranchised minority that will work for slave wages.
  • Why accidentally help blacks? The GOP doesn't want them to vote, and the GOP doesn't want them to escape the low-wage trap. They might leave the urban core and move to the suburbs, where, increasingly, the jobs are. Heaven forbid!
  • And poor whites? Aren't they sort of black?
Take a clear look at what the Republicans have been doing and advocating. Then convince me that they aren't in favor of a new status quo that's more like the old status quo just before the Civil Right Act of 1964. Only with more Hispanics in the mix and a newly acquired disdain for white trash.

Where am I wrong?

A Different Look at the Ukrainian Crisis

I have often looked to University of Michigan Middle-Eastern history professor Juan Cole -- and his blog, Informed Comment -- to shed light on conflagrations that have been ignited across the Arab and Persian world, from Tunisia to Iran. He often has a take quite different from mainstream media.

And so it is with the events still unfolding in Ukraine. Read this eye-opening post on how we may not be viewing or correctly identifying what's really taking place. Here's a taste:
The troubles that Ukraine is having (and that Russia and the former Yugoslavia also had) in its post-Soviet politics, with a struggle between authoritarianism and democracy and between a Moscow orientation versus a Brussels one, are very similar to the difficulties that have beset many countries of the Arab world in the past few years.
It is striking to me that we typically don’t speak of these difficulties as those of “Slavs” or of the “Slavic world.” In English we now tend to speak of eastern Europe, using a geographical term. Russians, Ukrainians and Serbs, Bosnians and Croats, all speak “Slavic” languages and in past decades it was in fact not uncommon to speak of them as Slavs. (This is still done in the Russian press to some extent). Robert Vitalis at the University of Pennsylvania argues that racial categories were key, not incidental, to most political science analysis in the US in the first half of the twentieth century.
Many of us lump Iran with the Arab world, for example, when the Iranians aren't Arabs and don't speak Arabic. It's good to have a professor around who knows stuff this. Thanks, Dr. Cole.

The Washington Post Mourns the Loss of the Grand Bargain

Fred Hyatt: I've found an efficient way to steal
from old people. Fucking Obama won't go along with it.

It's no secret that the Washington Post's editorial board, led by Fred Hiatt, has guided Beltway public opinion -- or been guided by it, what's the difference? -- into a Very Serious People cul-de-sac. Their latest screed against Barack Obama's abandonment of the failed "Grand Bargain" strategy for dealing with a recalcitrant Republican Party lacks anything resembling intelligence. Or, it should be said, the opinion lacks honesty or basic math ability, or both. It certainly shows, once again, that the Washington Post doesn't give a shit about America's elderly:
PRESIDENT OBAMA has not released his budget for fiscal year 2015, but he has already let it be known that one good idea won’t be in it: Unlike last year, Mr. Obama will not propose the use of a more accurate inflation factor, “chained CPI,” in the government’s annual adjustments to Social Security and other benefits.
This is a huge disappointment. As far as anyone can tell, the president’s view on the merits of chained CPI hasn’t changed. The measure would save $162.5 billion over the next decade , according to the Congressional Budget Office, thus helping to trim the entitlement costs that are on track to drive the U.S. budget deficit unsustainably higher beginning early in the next president’s first term. Appropriately tempered with protections for the very poor and very elderly, chained CPI is an efficient method of long-term deficit reduction that imposes only modest sacrifice on the vast majority of Americans.
Don't worry, Grandma, Fred
Hiatt's got your back.
It's the glib way the editorial board glances off the figure of "$162.5 billion over the next decade" that's the tell in this editorial position. What does that figure represent? Money picked from the pockets of senior citizens, most of whom will barely be getting by in their dotage as it is. It's not nothing, it billions of dollars over the course of the twenty or more years we hope each senior might live in this, the greatest country on Earth.

But that's chump change for the Washington Post. Who, exactly, are the chumps? It's the senior citizens of America, who, I must add, tend to vote more and more Republican as they age. But then, voting against your own self-interests is a common feature of our beloved American democracy, a fact that is daily celebrated on the pages of the Washington Post.

Let's take one last look at the black heart of Fred Hiatt. Let's reread that sentence that holds the key to Hiatt's loathing of the poor and unfortunate as they age somewhere out in the heartland:
Appropriately tempered with protections for the very poor and very elderly, chained CPI is an efficient method of long-term deficit reduction that imposes only modest sacrifice on the vast majority of Americans.
"An efficient method" my ass. It means we've found a way to quietly pocket money to pay for Bush's tax cuts or, better yet, a way to finance our beloved military-industrial complex. Either way, it's less for you, Mom and Pop.

There are better ways to fix this, Fred. But the Very Serious People don't like them. So mum's the word.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Koch Brothers Lie, the Koch Brothers Lie

If money is speech, then money can lie. And the Koch brothers are out to prove it. I intend to point out, whenever possible, each time the Koch brothers' political activity, usually through their stupidPAC, Americans for Prosperity (surprise, surprise, it's the Koch brothers' prosperity we're talking about):

I don't know how they get these people to fib on their behalf, but they do. Obamacare has its flaws, but that's not good enough for the Kochs and the Republicans. Lying about Obamacare has become a major cottage industry.

The truth on this ad? Here at Glenn Hesslers' joint.

Also, too, Daily Kos gives the facts.

How They Roll in Arizona

A group of Arizona Republicans standing around talking
about civil rights. Not pictured: the human heart.

Arizona has discovered how easy it is to undo two-hundred-plus years of expanding human rights:
The Arizona legislature sent a bill to the Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk Thursday that would carve a massive hole into state law allowing business owners to turn away gay and lesbian customers, employers to deny equal pay to women, or individuals to renege on contract obligations–as long as they claim to be doing so in the name of religion. 
Brewer, a Republican who vetoed similar legislation last year, has not said whether she will sign the bill. Ann Dockendorff, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, said in a statement that “It is the governor’s policy to not comment on legislation until she’s had a chance to review it. Monday would be the earliest she would take action, assuming it’s transmitted by the Senate by then. She’ll have five days to act once she receives it.”
This bill may just be a chance for Arizona Republicans to prove their cred to their base base who'd love a law like this. It makes this charade all the more craven if the GOP expects -- even secretly hopes -- that Gov. Brewer will refuse to sign it. She's very unpredictable, siding with the loonies on immigration law and going against them on Medicaid expansion. It hardly matters since the bill will undoubtedly be shot down by the courts as unconstitutional, just as the heart of the immigration law was.

Still, the Republicans of Arizona have made it clear: They don't like gays, don't think women are equal to men, and don't find contracts worth the paper they're written on because God is their lawyer, and He's told them religion is the biggest pair of crossed fingers a citizen can have.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Battlelines Being Drawn: Obama Backs Off Social Security Cuts

This is good. As so many commentators on the left point out, social programs are popular. Democrats should support them. Duh.

The big worry was that Barack Obama would forget that a Grand Bargain was never possible and still include some Social Security cut in his 2015 budget proposal.

White House officials announced today that said budget will not include any cuts to Social Security or cuts to any other benefit programs, apparently.

Bullet officially dodged. Now, Democrats, go out there and run on popular social issues, run on all of them! Loudly! You could win!

Hope they make at least a halfhearted effort.

Does the FCC Have the Cards to Win the Comcast/Net Neutrality Wars?

The cable guy is frightening but not for reasons you might imagine.

Comcast wants to buy Time Warner Cable for one reason: to make more money. No, it's not by expanding their market, which would theoretically be okay, but the other way, by leveraging their larger position to gain concessions from content providers, other than itself, of course (Comcast owns NBC Universal).

This very simple truth means we consumers are screwed, potentially, by this deal.

Slate magazine hosted three articles that offer us a way out.

Matthew Yglesias identifies, correctly, what the Comcast deal means. It's all about the broadband.

Eliza Krigman notices, intriguingly, that the FCC's reboot of net neutrality protections holds promise of reintroducing municipal attempts at providing broadband as a utility. Legislators in 20 states had shut down attempts by ISPs to cooperate with municipalities -- like Philadelphia -- to provide free wireless. (Surprisingly, this isn't totally a Republican effort. Some states like California and Washington find reason for common cause. Go figure.)

Finally, a week-old article by Marvin Ammori worries about a limp FCC response to the Appeals Court loss -- mitigated by the FCC's just-announced reboot -- but serves a good purpose in reminding us about how close we came to Internet disaster when we confronted SOPA -- and won. Ammori then shows the path to winning the net neutrality war in similar fashion.

The stakes in both cases -- in three cases if you include the possibility that content providers will try for another go at SOPA-like legislation -- are high. What's at risk?

It's a familiar theme: Rich people and companies want to own all the marbles and control all the games. We see it here in the Internet sphere, but it's a constant battle in healthcare, mega-farming, free access to information, easy and affordable access to entertainment content, and free and unfettered access to voting, for that matter.

Guess who doesn't want us to have that? No surprise here: the wealthy and their flying monkey armies, the Republicans. And, sad to say, some blue dog Demos.

Keep up the good fight. Sign the petitions, everyone of them, write your Congresspeople, and donate to the good guys (you know who they are).

Walt Disney wanted a Magic Kingdom, not a content kingdom as far as the eye could see.

Note. Just noticed my mixed metaphor in the blog post title. I'm a genius.

Scott Walker Linked to Secret Email System

This doesn't mean much yet, but it's a start.

What's With Republican Governors?

Scott Walker, the perfect GOP governor. And his eyes are dreamy...

Republicans built up quite a lead in state houses across the country in the past decade, with 29 GOP governors versus 21 Democrats. The GOP may continue this trend, although the ineptitude demonstrated on a regular basis isn't helping. Cases in point:
  • Former Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia behaved so badly that, coupled with former Attorney General Ken "It's all about the vagina" Cuccinelli's habit of making it, well, all about the vagina, he not only helped Cuccinelli lose but also got himself and his wife indicting on corruption charges.
  • Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana was a Rhodes scholar wunderkind with a bright future before tanking in his GOP response to an Obama SOTU speech and extending his losses by trying to eliminate state income taxes in favor of raising and expanding the regressive sales tax. That bombed and flatlined his statewide popularity. Backing a school voucher program that didn't pass the constitutional smell test didn't help.
  • Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey was living a charmed life by turning a hurricane disaster and an Obama embrace into soaring poll numbers and a landslide reelection. He actually was able to turning his bullying persona ("What's a matter with you, are you stupid?!?") into an image plus. Then New Jersey and the country caught on to the fact, through Bridgegate, that Chris Christie is a bully's bully who leveraged this technique his whole political career from high school right up to becoming the Republican frontrunner for 2016. Now he couldn't be elected "Most Likely to be a Bully" in a middle-school yearbook.
  • Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina was doing a great job of taking North Carolina, once near the top of the list of 21st-century-ready states, back to the 19th century (with saner NC folks leading an ongoing protest known as "Moral Mondays") when he decided the best way to attract quality attention was to throw a governor hissy fit and get a gay grocery-store cook fired for failing to give the guv some love. Heckuva job, McCrory.
  • Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was already getting a second look as a possible GOP 2016 contender -- mostly because everyone else is more than tanking -- in spite of the fact that fundraising scandals were circling him while leaving him inexplicably clean of hand. Now a 28,000 document release shows that Walker and his staff maintained a secret email system separate from the official state email system, and a few emails are coming out making his staff look, well, a little worse than they already appeared. (Like Christie, Walker's staff while Milwaukee County Executive have been caught up in scandal, with six former aides or associates convicted last year.) Walker seems to be skating past the debris, but an ongoing look at the document dump and a John-Doe investigation or two may yet snag him. Some supporters are still shouting "2016!" Yeah, sure.
  • Gov. Paul LePage of Maine is behaving as if someone is hiding his meds. Actually it's his virile opposition to an anti-overdose medication, Narcan -- a proven lifesaver -- that has him grabbing recent headlines. Apparently saving drug users from dying is, for LePage, a "moral hazard." Since he's fiercely opposed the Obamacare Medicaid expansion in his state, we can only suppose that health insurance is a moral hazard, as well. 
  • Gov. Rick Scott of Florida might as well be added to this list if only because his failed attempt to get welfare applicants to submit to a drug test -- at their expense -- was last month, wait for it, declared unconstitutional. Scott, a former healthcare magnate who pleaded guilty to fourteen counts of Medicare fraud, was fined $600 million, and was still elected governor of Florida, has seen his approval numbers sink to 23 percent. He is, naturally, running for reelection. Godspeed, Guv.
I could go on, but I'm only featuring GOP governors who have damaged both their personal brands and the GOP brand in general. Those who are up for reelection may still be reelected -- Walker comes to mind -- but no one could or should seriously take the position that these politicians are either moral or competent. We'll see. They are proven fundraisers.

There's also the fact that a lot of what they do is loved by the Republican base. And until cranky white people no longer have as much clout -- and, cranky white people, that day is coming -- then they'll still be a factor, especially in off-year elections.

Also, I didn't spend time providing links, but if you wish, google their names with different words, like scandal, fraud, approval, etc. It's fun.

I guess you can only bully so long before they figure out you are a dick.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

You've Got Nothing Left When You Slam Obama For...

...apologizing to art history majors. But then we're not sure, altogether, what Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) has left.

Barack Obama drove me to drink, I tell ya...

FCC Takes Another Stab at Net Neutrality

The CEO of Comcast is worried that net neutrality
might yet live for another day. He was so getting
ready to make NBC cheap and Netflix expensive.
(Because Comcast has such big, beautiful pipes!)
The idea that the Internet should be neutral -- no picking sides -- is inherent in all that is good and righteous about the Internet. Well, that's not exactly true, depending on your perspective. If you're black, you might hate that there are an abundance of white supremacy groups on the Web; if you're a prude, you might think that there's too much porn out there; if you're a Republican, you might not like that there are many fact-checkers.

But then, you'd probably say that about the Bill of Rights, too. But the thing is, whenever money and power get to dominate the discourse, the Bill of Rights is sort of fucked. What we've got here, though, is a great big equalizer. Case in point: I'm nobody per se, but I've got a website and you can't take it away or slow down my broadband pipes. So, score one for the Bill of Rights.

We got pretty close to losing on net neutrality just recently when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington told the FCC that they kinda sorta screwed themselves by accident:
U.S. Circuit Judge David Tatel, writing for a three-judge panel, said that while the FCC has the power to regulate Verizon and other broadband companies, it chose the wrong legal framework for its open-Internet regulations.
“Given that the commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the commission from nonetheless regulating them as such,” Tatel wrote.
What the FCC did was similar to what would happen if the FDA classified tobacco as candy, then tried to regulate it as a drug. The courts would likely say, umm, you can't do that.

So, the FCC is going to regulate the Internet providers not as utilities but as competitors in the communications space. The courts say regulating competition so that it remain healthy is okay. And this is what the FCC is going to now do. Yay.

Why should be care? Well, the glee expressed in this Forbes magazine article in response to the Court takedown of the FCC in the Verizon case shows why we should be very, very wary:
It’s a good thing that net neutrality, which is not neutral in any sense, be dead and buried. New business are emerging as infrastructure and content firms increasingly overlap, invading each others’ turf. Compulsory “neutrality” makes perpetual enemies out of enterprises that should both compete and cooperate to expand the wonders of ever faster broadband to more and more customers.
Net neutrality is yet another example of economic regulation that flies in the face of every proper tenet of wealth creation and expansion of consumer welfare.
Really, Forbes, really?! Here's a quick translation:
If we have a totally free market for the Internet, rich people will end up competing until most of the value of the Internet will end up in the hands of the 1% or the .1% where it should be.
 If we get wealth creation the way we at Forbes like it, consumer welfare will be expanded, as in consumers of the Internet will need welfare to pay for it because, well, competition! And you lost! Hahahaha!!
We don't like you, lizard brains of Forbes. Serve your Wall Street toadies if you like, but we're rooting for the FCC to get it right this time. Because -- seriously this time -- because freedom.

Verizon has big pipes. We could dominate cellphone Internet traffic. Competition!

Teaching Economics Through Parables

Paul Krugman flags a Matthew Yglesias post on Slate and then points to a column Krugman wrote in the past. Both are parables and simplistic ones at that. The result is we learn stuff we couldn't have learned if we weren't up with the jargon and math used in the economics field. That's very helpful, and not everyone can do it.

Visit this Krugman post, then read this Yglesias post, then read this Krugman Slate article from 1998 (yeah, Krugman has been around, and I've been reading him since his Slate days in the 1990s).

The point here is actually several:
  • Yglesias explains technological progress and deflation quite well.
  • Krugman demonstrates that he's been really, really into these things for a long time, especially the part about explaining things simply and the virtue thereof.
  • Smart people can bamboozle you while being bamboozled by themselves, in spite of how serious, even well-intentioned, they are.
  • Smart people can bamboozle you because they can, for political or personal profit.
I threw that last one in, but it's relevant to the misuse of economics in political discourse.

Ted Cruz in happier, more honest times.

American Security Priorities Miss the Mark

What's with this?
The Department of Homeland Security wants a private company to provide a national license-plate tracking system that would give the agency access to vast amounts of information from commercial and law enforcement tag readers, according to a government proposal that does not specify what privacy safeguards would be put in place.
The national license-plate recognition database, which would draw data from readers that scan the tags of every vehicle crossing their paths, would help catch fugitive illegal immigrants, according to a DHS solicitation. But the database could easily contain more than 1 billion records and could be shared with other law enforcement agencies, raising concerns that the movements of ordinary citizens who are under no criminal suspicion could be scrutinized.
Think about this. As a nation, we want to spend billions to for Homeland Security to catch fugitives. We want a national database of auto license plates.

How about a national database of weapons? We talk about 300 million guns out there, and these guns kill tens of thousands of people a year, some through homicide, some through suicide, and some by accident. But if we tried to build a national database of gun owners, we'd get nowhere.

This is not about safety. We'd have to have four 9/11s or more per year to compete with gun deaths that happen just because. Just because what? Just because freedom?

And, by the way, we don't know that a national database of license plates would catch many fugitive illegal immigrants. Why? Because we have only so many law-enforcement dollars and so many jail cells, that's why. If the DHS thinks it can tell the sheriff departments all over America to start looking for these license plates and those license plates and apprehend the drivers without giving billions for more cops and more jail cells, then it's not thinking this through.

Update. Okay, maybe I didn't think this through. Immigration enforcement is handled now by ICE, which is now part of DHS. Ostensibly, ICE would pursue and detain violators. Still, I don't see how these individuals would be apprehended by ICE using a new database without first being located, arrested, and jailed by local law enforcement, so my original point stands.

I'm not saying that requiring registration, testing, and training of all gun owners would be an easy and cheap enterprise even if it were politically feasible. It would, however, make us tremendously more secure in our day-to-day lives. Tracking and arresting fugitives sounds nice, but it's a preposterous waste of money, just because it sounds like a nice, new crime TV series.

Remember: Guns kill people, license plates don't. And don't start in on "cars kill people." We've made cars a lot safer over the decades. Guns have become more lethal.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kansas to Teachers and Parents: Let's Get Physical!

Moving into the 21st century at the speed of Kansas...

Kids are too soft these days, and parents have forgotten how to discipline their children by spanking the tar out of them. But the Kansas House of Representatives aims to fix that:
Corporal punishment is defined under the bill as using one’s palm to strike the clothed buttocks of child up to 10 times and using reasonable physical force to restrain the child. The bill acknowledges that this may lead to bruising.
McPherson deputy county attorney Britt Colle, who authored the bill, said media reports haven’t accurately depicted the purpose of the legislation.
“I think they’re looking at the wrong thing here,” Colle said. “This is really an issue of clarifying what the law is, and by that, it also clarifies what’s against the law.”
Colle said he has worked as a lawyer for more than 20 years and handled many cases that involved parents hitting children. The bill, he said, aims to set a clear standard for police, prosecutors, parents and judges to follow in terms of what is acceptable discipline. The bill draws the line at spanking a clothed child, while excluding anything that involves hitting the child elsewhere on his or her body, using a fist against a child, a belt, or other object, Colle said.
“For years, law enforcement has been kind of going back and forth” on child discipline cases, he said.
The bill also says that other legal guardians and step-parents of children can spank a child, and school personnel and other people can, too, if they obtain written permission from the child’s parents. Spanking may be used on children up to age 18, or older, if the child is still enrolled in high school, the bill says.
Kansas is just set on moving backwards in time, isn't it? But it begs the question: "Who would Jesus spank?" Kids up to age 18, I guess...

God so loved the world that He spanked kids until age 18.